NIU braces itself as classes resume

 

 

DEKALB, Ill. – The lecture hall where the shooting occurred is closed for the rest of the semester. Extra police and security guards will be on hand. Volunteer counselors will man each classroom, academic department and dormitory.

When classes resume Monday, Northern Illinois University will be transformed by the rampage in which five students and gunman Steve Kazmierczak were killed.

The slain have been laid to rest, but for the 25,000 students, the memory of what happened is still fresh, and the changes are everywhere.

“The campus to which the students and our faculty and our staff will be returning is one that may experience some continuing sense of nervousness and fear,” NIU spokeswoman Melanie Magara said. “We recognize that.”

Plans for a memorial for the victims are still in their infancy. Family and friends have buried Daniel Parmenter, Catalina Garcia, Gayle Dubowski, all 20; Ryanne Mace, 19; and Julianna Gehant, 32. Most of the 16 others who were wounded have gone home, though two were still hospitalized a week after the attack.

No decision has been made on the future of Cole Hall, where the killings took place. But student Kevin Wittier is glad it’s shuttered for the time being.

“I would never take a class in that auditorium again,” said Wittier, 22, from Crystal Lake. “It’s kind of creepy. I couldn’t imagine sitting in a seat where some girl got shot and died just taking notes.”

In addition to reaching out to students particularly affected by the shooting, the school is focused on providing support for the weeks and months after classes reconvene, said Micky Sharma, director of NIU’s counseling and student development center.

“Our goal is to really provide services for our entire community,” Sharma said. “We want to make a statement about the community moving forward together.”

Jonathan C. Perry, a clinical psychologist and director of the University of Arkansas health center, has been leading training sessions for NIU faculty on helping students grieve.

“It’s a tough way to become a strong community,” he said. “But I’m very comfortable that in a few months, everyone here will look at each other and say we are a stronger community.”

Associated Press writer Don Babwin contributed to this report